flowers to support someone who's lost a child on mother's day
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How To Support Someone Who Has Lost A Child On Mother’s Day

Simple gestures go a long way.

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When Mother’s Day rolls around, it’s usually pretty easy to find suggestions for fun ways to celebrate the moms in your life. However, motherhood has a lot of different looks, and it’s just as (if not more) important to know what to say on Mother’s Day to someone who lost a child as it is to celebrate the moms who have not. For these grieving moms, small meaningful gestures are often welcomed and appreciated.

Child loss is much more common than you may realize. Every year in the U.S., there are around 9,000 child deaths and 24,000 stillbirths, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Additionally, between 10-15% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, reports March of Dimes. In every single one of these situations, there is a tragic loss and a grieving mom.

“Mothers who have suffered a loss often find themselves overcome with grief and sadness on Mother’s Day,” licensed professional counselor and maternal mental health specialist, Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, tells Romper in an email. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, how she lost the child, or how many living children she has — Mother’s Day is often still a painful reminder of her devastating loss. “A bereaved mom might find herself feeling a wide range of emotions [including] depression, jealousy, anger, or even rage [on Mother’s Day],” Brunner explains, “All of these feelings and emotions are normal.”

Even if you don’t know what to say on Mother’s Day to someone who lost a child, you can still support her and honor her child’s memory. Simply taking time out of your day to acknowledge her and her child will go a long way. “The silence around loss is so painful for mothers,” psychotherapist and perinatal mental health specialist Kellie Wicklund, MA, LPC, PMH-C, tells Romper. “Mothers don’t forget; they just feel forgotten.” Here are some ways to let them know you remember.


Support the surviving siblings

For moms with multiple kids, Mother’s Day may be bittersweet. As much as she likely wants to spend the day soaking up the love of her surviving children, she might also like a little time to herself to mourn the one she lost. You can support her need for this by taking her other kids out for an ice cream cone or to go play in the park for a while. Ask mom what she needs, and how much time she could use to herself on Mother’s Day, and do what you can to give it to her.


Write a letter

There are two ways you can do this. If mom wants to be left alone on Mother’s Day, you can write her a letter to let her know you’re thinking of her and her child. Or, you can write a letter to her child for her to read. If you opt to do this, fill the page with memories you have of them (if you have any) and/or describing how lucky they are to have their mom. Talk about how much she loves them, how much she misses them, and how she will never stop keeping their memory alive.


Visit the child’s memorial site

Whether it’s a tree the family planted in memory of their child, or a formal headstone, offer to accompany mom to visit her child’s memorial site on Mother’s Day. It’s a heavy activity, though, so if she isn’t feeling up for it, don’t pressure her into going. However, just because she doesn’t have the heart to visit the memorial site, that doesn’t mean you can’t go. Make the trip on your own to lay down some fresh flowers, say hello, and pay your respects to the little one.


Talk about and remember her child

Christina Moran-Obrien lost her daughter to SIDS when she was 5 months old, and she appreciates any time someone acknowledges her daughter. “[A bereaved mom] may feel that they and their child have been forgotten as the world celebrates,” she says, so taking the time to remember their child on Mother’s Day (or any day) can make a big impact. Moran-Obrien explains that it doesn’t have to be an elaborate message, just something small like “I’m missing your child today,” “I was remembering what a wonderful mother you were to your child,” or “I’m thinking of you this Mother’s Day.”


Skip social media shout-outs

“Being bombarded by Mother’s Day-related ads and baby-filled social media posts can trigger intense feelings of loss and emptiness,” says Brunner, so sharing a special post for a bereaved mom probably isn’t the way to go. “I find that [bereaved moms] likely want to hide from social media [on Mother’s Day],” Wicklund says, so chances are high she wouldn’t even see the post anyway.


Ask her how she’d like to spend the day

The way one mom who has lost a child wants to spend Mother’s Day may be completely different than someone else, which is why Moran-Obrien suggests addressing the topic before Mother’s Day rolls around. “If you are close, you can ask in advance, ‘How would you like to acknowledge or not acknowledge Mother’s Day?’,” she says. Brunner notes that simply asking the question could mean a lot. “Making the effort to ask that question might be comforting and validating to a mother who has experienced a loss.”

“A [mom] who has experienced a loss may feel inclined to spend the whole day under the blankets,” Wicklund explains, but she might feel guilty for it, especially if there are expectations for her to celebrate. So, if she tells you she’d like to spend the day alone, it’s important to respect her boundaries and let her know it’s okay and that you’re there if she changes her mind. It’s possible she will wake up feeling one way and change her mind about how she prefers to spend the day throughout.


Plan a visit or an outing (if she’s up for it)

If she does want to celebrate in some way, take the lead in planning your get-together. “If you can take the burden of planning off her shoulders, do it,” says Moran-Obrien. Set up a lunch reservation, schedule a mani-pedi date, or grab a couple of tickets to a movie that will make her laugh.


Acknowledge her as a mother

Mother’s Day is all about showing appreciation to moms, and a bereaved mom is still a mom. “It can be especially important to go out of your way to acknowledge that she is still a mother [on Mother’s Day],” Moran-Obrien says, “The day can offer an opportunity to honor and remember whatever time she had with her child or the bond they shared as mother and child.”


Know that small gifts and gestures go a long way

Thoughtfulness is going to go a long way for a mom who has lost a child. “Don’t assume they want to chat or have a visit,” explains Wicklund, instead she suggests opting for a card, text, call, meal gift certificate or even a gift left on the porch. Moran-Obrien agrees, and also suggests doing something more symbolic like making a donation in her and/or her child’s name or planting some flowers for her.


Validate her feelings

No matter how she’s spending the day or what she’s feeling, Brunner stresses the importance of letting a bereaved mom know that it’s okay. “A woman who is battling infertility, a woman who has experienced a miscarriage, or a woman who has lost a child all might experience feelings of grief on Mother’s Day,” she says, “It is important to acknowledge and validate those feelings.” You might not be able to fully understand the pain she’s feeling, but letting her know that you’re willing to listen and going out of your way to make sure she’s in your thoughts will go a long way.

You don’t have to know exactly what to say on Mother’s Day to someone who has lost a child, you just need to show up for them in some way without holding them to any obligation to reciprocate. Check in on them in whatever way you think is best based on your relationship, and don’t push them to talk or celebrate if they don’t want to. Simply let them know that they, and their child, have not been forgotten.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.


Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor and Maternal Mental Health Specialist

Kellie Wicklund, MA, LPC, PMH-C, Licensed Psychotherapist, Certified Perinatal Mental Health Specialist, and Owner and Clinical Director of the Maternal Wellness Center

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